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Stage Review

Trio Makes It a Sondheim Sideshow

April 22, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When it opened in 1976 in London, and 1977 in New York, "Side by Side by Sondheim" was a sort of compendium of Stephen Sondheim's greatest hits up to that point in his career, along with some of his rarely heard works.

Of course, this was before "Sunday in the Park With George," "Into the Woods" and what is probably his greatest musical achievement, "Sweeney Todd."

It's a good thing "Side by Side" is revived every now and then. The show includes some early Sondheim gems, particularly from the beginning of his career when he wrote only lyrics.

Some retain their sheen in Orange County Light Opera's revival at the Huntington Beach Art Center, but not because of the production. It is a flat affair that seems dashed together by director Larry Watts, with a trio of performers that doesn't have the charisma this type of revue needs.

Even Watts' simplistic choreography looks a little uncomfortable in its execution, without the crispness and elan it should have.

James Ward is ingratiating as the narrator, who guides the audience through Sondheim's rise to fame and fills in the gaps with sometimes amusing tales about the composer. Richard Berent's keyboard accompaniment is vigorous and well-played, in good Sondheim style.

The most interesting performance is Christy Laschiver's Woman No. 1. She displays a fairly resonant vocal technique, especially in "I Never Do Anything Twice" from the film "The Seven Percent Solution," and in the haunting "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music."

Marti Klein is less effective as Woman No. 2. She has an interesting chest voice, but when she lets out her big soprano in the upper registers, her diction fogs some of the lyrics. Her best number is "Broadway Baby" from "Follies," when she manages to temper her voice into that thin, plaintive, restrained soprano that was the trademark of such 1920s singers as Helen Morgan.

As the Man, Marc Marger has a big, clear baritone that relates best to this material, in numbers such as "Losing My Mind" from "Follies," and "I Remember" from the television musical of John Collier's "Evening Primrose," but he's often too kittenish for the leading-man type the material demands.

In spite of the classy material, this company is rarely side by side with Sondheim.

BE THERE

* "Side by Side by Sondheim," Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. $15. Ends Saturday. (714) 444-2288. Also 1 p.m. Sunday at the Jewish Community Center of Orange County, 250 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa. $12-$15. (714) 755-0340. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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